Architecture speaks English - ISPLORA

Architecture speaks English


Richard Rogers wins the AIA Gold Medal and Norman Foster the RIBA Stirling Prize.

At the end of every year, the world of architecture takes stock of the previous 12 months and hands out most of its awards to architects and buildings. In particular, two major prizes come from the English-speaking world: the gold medal assigned by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Stirling Prize organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Both awards are therefore given by professional organizations for architects, representing American (AIA) and British (RIBA) professionals.

The AIA Gold Medal was awarded to British architect Richard Rogers for his “influence on the built environment which has redefined the concept of the architect’s social responsibility”

The gold medal is the highest honor awarded by the AIA and is conferred yearly on an individual, not necessarily an architect, “in recognition of a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture”. According to Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, who backed his nomination for the award, Rogers “is the quintessential builder, committed to mastering the craft and technology of construction, harnessing it towards efficient buildings, and forging an expressive architectural language”, then adding “before it was fashionable, he was an environmentalist, who recognized early in his career the challenges of energy and climate, developing innovative solutions.”

Also architect Renzo Piano, who teamed up with Rogers for the project of the Centre Pompidou, joined in the praise defining him not only a great architect, but also a “planner attracted by the complexity of cities and the fragility of earth; a humanist curious about everything (from art to music, people, communities, and food); an inexhaustible explorer of the world. And there is one more thing he could be: a poet”.

Richard Rogers, born in Florence in 1933 and a relative of Ernesto Nathan Rogers, is known to the general public for his high-tech architecture, for modernist and functionalist projects such as the above-mentioned Centre Pompidou in Paris (1971-77), the Lloyd’s building in London (1979-86), the European Court in Strasbourg (1989-95), the Madrid-Barajas Airport in Madrid (2005) and finally the 3 World Trade Center in New York, still under construction. To this day, the English architect is one of the three partners of the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) firm, based in London, where he works on large urban buildings maintaining intact the fusion between his job as an architect and his social mission within the project, involving the residents and reflecting on the use of space.

Rogers added his name to a list of designers, the first of which was Sir Aston Webb in 1907 (the author of Buckingham Palace), which includes all the protagonists of modern architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright (1949) to Louis I. Kahn (1971), Mies van der Rohe (1960) and Le Corbusier (1961), up to the recently deceased Bob Venturi (go to the article) and his contemporaries Renzo Piano, Steven Holl, Frank Gehry and Norman Foster.

Norman Foster himself was the winner of the Stirling Prize, the other important award of Anglo-Saxon architecture, with his “monolithic” project of the Bloomberg headquarters in London. The RIBA Stirling Prize is assigned to the "architect of the building who has given the greatest contribution to British architecture over the last year", provided that the architect is a member of RIBA and the building is in the European Union. The award, founded in 1996, carries 20,000£ for the winner and is named after British architect James Stirling (1926-1992).

It is very interesting to observe the location of the Bloomberg building: the building designed by Foster is in fact directly connected with one of Stirling’s most important projects: the No 1 Poultry Building, one of the cornerstones of post-modern architecture, on the corner between Poultry and Queen Victoria Street and within walking distance of the Royal Exchange and the Mansion House. On the occasion of the prize giving, the building by Foster + Partners was defined as the largest stone building constructed in London since St Paul's Cathedral.

The project for the Bloomberg European headquarters by Foster, the winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize, represents a “monumental achievement”, an innovative building which “has raised the bar for office design and city planning”

The headquarters of the global information company Bloomberg occupy a full block of the London City and comprise two imposing blocks clad in sandstone and characterized on the outside by large vertical bronze fins. Aside from offices, the project includes a shopping gallery with cafes and shops and creates a break between the two blocks to reinstate an ancient Roman road which used to cross the site.

Inside, a bronze 210m-long bronze ramp connects open-space offices with ceilings clad in panels (folded in the shape of petals) made of sound-absorbing and insulating aluminum, elements which combined with other details make this volume an example of sustainable architecture. Architect Sir David Adjaye, one of the members of the jury, said that “Bloomberg is a once-in-a-generation project which has pushed the boundaries of research and innovation in architecture”, while respecting the context it is set in, in fact opening up to the city and its inhabitants.

This is Foster’s third RIBA Stirling Prize, after the award in 1998 for the Imperial War Museum in Duxford and the one in 2004 for The Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe in London. Sir Norman has thus set a record and is part of a list which includes Herzog & de Meuron for the Laban in London, Zaha Hadid for the MAXXI first and then the Evelyn Grace Academy, Caruso St John Architects for the Newport Street Gallery and also Richard Rogers for the Airport in Madrid and Maggie’s Centre in London.

What emerges is the intense activity of these two English architects, a professional activity which in 1964 led them to establish Team 4 with their life partners. Their journeys then took different roads, while maintaining consistency and a common modus operandi careful to the evolving needs of contemporaneity, a continuous and constantly updated design solution capable of meeting the challenges set by the environment through the use of technology, a careful work in terms of composition and analysis, which has always been measured on man and on the city. 


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